Thursday, December 31, 2009

Marooning the Men on Green Island, 1826

Neddy and my self climbed back into the boat. The others pushed her out, til we could feel the bite of the sea. The Menang men talked to each other, happy to be heading out to hunt. Neddy did not talk to them. He didn’t know their language. His face was different to them, his straight hair and canvas clothes made him different too. The Menang men treated him like they treated all us sealers, one eye on his cutlass and the other on opportunity.

We had wrapped spirals of kangaroo skin, fastened with copper nails around the oars, to keep them tight in the rowlocks and they creaked now as Neddy and my self laboured out to the island. With each creak and splash, I wondered what the other men seemed to know and I wondered about Randall, whose mind was always on the game and the trap.

We beached on the north side of the island, where it met the deeper water, crunched gently into the rocks. Twertayan disembarked and the four others followed him, their spears clattering the gunwales, stood waiting for me and Neddy to stow the boat,

Neddy hefted his oar out of the rowlock. I watched him. “Push off!” Neddy hissed at me, his eyes wide. I knew what we were about to do. I looked at the best of the Menang men – the five strongest, the five hunters and protectors – grinning, rubbing their thorny feet on their slim shins in anticipation of the bird hunt. I knew all about it then. I could have stopped it then but I did not.

“They do not swim, Neddy.”

“Push off, Hook. Randall tol’ us so.” Randall had broken Neddy’s little brother’s arm over his knee on Kangaroo Island.

“They do not swim!”

Neddy shoved an oar against a stone scrawled with the white markings of strange creatures and the little boat heaved away from the island. Whaleboats have pointed bows ahead and astern. There is no going about or shoving a clumsy transom against water, just turn the body and row the other way for a quick lurch away from a cranky humpback, from swell smashing against granite or from desperate people.

I tried to ignore the lamentations of the marooned Menang men but every time I checked ahead and then over my shoulder for bearings, I saw the five dark figures, their arms waving, silhouetted against the fertile green of their prison. I rowed with that same deadening in my stomach, that same blackness I feel when I dream bad things, when the only happening of my ill deed is shame, shame felt deep within my body.

“There is no water for them Neddy.” This concern, spoken aloud, did not unravel my guilt but made me a weaker man.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seal Medley

"We'll have to get you a gun, girl," Old Salt grinned at me, knowing my response. "Just like Annie Oakley, with a bit of target practice... What's the matter - don't you like guns?"
He knows I'm fine with guns, that I was brought up by a gunsmith. "Ah shit, don't tell me - no, don't tell me,
you like seals, don't you?"

Last night as we hauled, a seal fought us for the net. It ate every single fish, working its way from the channel entrance and towards the boat. The fish it could not tear out, it bit in half or just devoured bellies distended with roe. Finally the seal arrived at the boat and I peered down into the water to see its phosphorescent gleam undulating around the net. Like a marauding ghost, this seal.

On Breaksea Island, I lay across lichen, watching the seals and sea lions. They enchant me. Like pelicans or pashas, the seals' capacity for pleasure is heartening. It makes me feel good just to see them. They roll in water water, using the flippers as sails and up on the rock is the creche, where all the babies congregate.

" 'There is no better mother than the seal,' said the man with the slow voice.
'A seal's breast milk will raise an inch of fat. Isn't that what it says in the proverb?' said Michael."

From one of the highest points on the island, I watched a seal swimming along, way below, straight, swift and purposeful. One morning, I stood on the rocks, searching for bait, limpet knife in hand. A curious female seal sprouted beside me, blowing a mist of air and brine, eyeing me. She dived and surfaced again. She came closer and closer. I sang to her, can't remember the song, just sang as loud and true as I could. I could see her incredulity at my singing, knife-wielding self.

"That was the first time he saw her.
At first she was nothing more than a bulge in the water and he thought, I’ve been waiting for this, the creature who lives in this breathing inlet to reveal itself to me. He was waiting for a monster but it was a seal that rose to the surface. Her whiskers twitched and she snorted away a mist of water and looked at him with black eyes.
He put down the violin and she turned and rolled back under the surface. He picked up the violin and she appeared again. It was the first time he’d laughed out loud in weeks, months.
He played to her then, ‘Basket of Turf’ and ‘The Devil’s Dream’. She rolled and flipped and twitched her ears. He did not think of her meat or the skin that would warm him. He needed the company more."

" 'Did they let the young seal go?' said Michael the Ferry.
'I never heard what happened after.'
'Well, I believe that if they put him out, they'd be alright,' said Michael. 'Because I know my father, when he was a young lad, did the same. He brought home a young seal and put him down in the kitchen here for the night, and in the night there was a voice outside the door and it crying, 'Tadgh has left me!' and the seal in the corner of the kitchen here let words out of him when he heard the crying. 'I am Tadgh,' says this seal. When my father's father heard that he said to my father, who was only young at the time and had little understanding: 'Go,' he said, ' and take that seal and put him outside the door by the water's edge and leave him there. Say nothing,' he said to my father: 'only go and leave him there by the water.' And when my father opened out the door, he saw another seal on the quay waiting. If there's harm in the seal, Patrick Sean, there is good in him too. A man who is fishing and working near to where those creatures have their living, then he must study their ways.'
'They have been of great benefit to all classes of people,' said the man with the slow voice.
'It is better to have nothing to do with them,' said Patrick Sean, 'no matter is it good nor bad.' "

When the resident seal at Emu Point was slaughtered a few years ago, older locals looked towards Old Salt. He didn't kill that seal. He did write a letter to the paper, in which he said tour operators should not feed the seals, claiming it historically provoked bad behaviour in both humans and wildlife alike. The reason for the sudden interest in Old Salt, after the death of Sammy, was a very public stoush between him and the C.A.L.M officer who accused him of shooting a seal a few years before. "I didn't shoot that seal either," Old Salt told me. "But I know who did."
Sometimes I think Old Salt was quite happy to wear that one. The resulting notoriety made him Saltier than ever, and the rogue seal was dealt with.

Old Salt did tell me a story about the killing of a seal. "The Old Man and I went out to Waychinicup once. He was gonna set some nets and there, lying on the rocks was this big old bull seal. The Old Man picked up his axe, walked over to the seal and put that axe right through its skull."
I must have looked utterly mortified. "Why did he do that?"
"He was just about to set nets. He knew that seal would eat every, single fucking fish. He had five kids to feed and petrol for the drive out there." Old Salt shrugged. "Just the way it was."

" 'It were better,' said the man in the corner, ' for no man to kill a seal. Wasn't it your uncle, Michael, that killed the seal and died at the height of his strength?'
'He did, and I am after telling this man how he was warned.'
'What happened?' I said."

* David Thomson, The People of the Sea, a Journey in Search of the Seal Legends, Arena, 1989, (1954).
~ Sarah Toa,
The Family Tree of Julian MacGregor, 2007.

'Fish', by StormBoy

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Stunned Mullet Called Lucky

"I think I am a little bit drunk," I mumble as I stumble over the bull mastiff. He leans against me even more lovingly, thinking, perhaps, I will stroke his throat one more time.
Hours before, I was in Video Ezy, when surprised by my Honours supervisor's enigmatic text message.

"I love it when one of my students gets a Phd scholarship."

I expected it. In fact, all year I beavered, putting sentences in the right order, deciphering post structuralism texts and booting people out of my house, with the explicit intention of procuring this scholarship.

Now I feel slightly dazed and a bit of a fraud. It's all been too easy. That gleaming river stone of future promise, the one you pull out of the water and lay it in the bright sun - words on a page, letters worked into sentences, into paragraphs - the one you watch dry up into something pretty but not quite what you visualised. I was expecting that and yet hoped that the shining stone would hold to her rash promise and stay true ... and for once this has happened.

Today, I was emotionally exhausted, not from reality, but reading The Bone People (Keri Hulme) for the fourth time in ten years. It's a beautiful book that never fails to stamp on my guts - an intriguing, charismatic, violent lover I return to, over and over, to remind myself why I can't go back. Like the beginning of any relation based on self-demolition, I bought that book, with a nose for trouble, on the strength of its cover.

And then. And then. In Video Ezy with Storm Boy, whose latest research project is Alien Versus Predator, my supervisor's message bleeps and, for the first time ever, I know what I'm doing for the next three years and that I will be paid to do it.
Three years to write about those characters from the past whom I've obsessed over; the Maori William Hook, the odious Samuel Bailey, the Menang Moennan, that elusive little girl who disappeared between the written words of Commandants and Colonial Secretaries, the Pallawah women driven from their home by the Black Line and Van Diemen's Land Company survey pegs, the whaling Black Jacks of America. These are some of the people who converged on Breaksea Island in 1826. Now that is a ripping yarn.

So. I am a little bit drunk, full of the relief of the ejaculated, sort of guilty but not dirty, clean, kind of groan up, and wearing the foolish grin of someone who just can't believe their own luck. It is a strange collection of feelings.
One day, I will experience life from the inside of the machine. This thought unsettles me, coming from the fringes as I do, a furious sole parent who rails against real estate developers, right wing politicians and D.E.C. bureaucrats who wanna lock up all our islands. I am beginning already to experience the osmotic effect of entering that bubble, and the compromises enclosed.

Another coupe last week, (it was a corker week) is having not one, but two stories accepted by indigo journal, a biannual anthology of Western Australian writing. That's coming out in February. Far out.

To retain some sense of what ordinary life is like, I'll stay on the tinny and continue working part time for Old Salt. He's not that enthused about having a deckie called Doctor Toa, but I'm sure he'll cope, so long as I don't sleep in or stop laughing at his jokes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

M.C Escher, Fluorescent Sea

What he said #2

"Art is a way of saying what it means to be alive, and the most salient feature of existence is the unthinkable odds against it. For every way that there is of being here, there are an infinity of ways of not being here. Historical accident snuffs out out whole universes with every clock tick. Statistics declare us ridiculous. Thermodynamics prohibits us. Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible, and my life - this, here, now - infinitely more so. Art is a way of saying, in the face of all that impossibility, just how worth celebrating it is to be able to say anything at all."

Richard Powers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Setting Free the Sharks

The sharks in Waychinicup waters are big - for small sharks. This Port Jackson is probably the same one we caught last year, cruising along the nets munching on skippy until he/she became the opposite of unstuck. While Wobbygongs will snap grumpily, Port Jackson sharks wait patiently for me to unmesh them and then fold back into the soupy waters and lazily swim away.


When we arrived, the tide was sucked out of this little embayment but out to sea, swell crashed against the stone gates, trying to surge in. Such a strange tide, a breathing water in a breathing place. We rowed out to set some nets, dropping the boys at Elephant Cave.

Water is clear, not so much river water as brine from the ocean. Seagrass here is emerald green, glossy, waving ribbons, much healthier and vibrant than in the town estruaries.

We trekked through forests of orange flowering 1080 bush and paperbarks, to the rockpool for an icy swim.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

PassionFlowers and FairyTales

Zeb Shine is a woman who birthed babies at the same time I did, living a life packed with art and drama. For a few years now I've blown into the city and finally, her kitchen, for a precious catchup, staying up all night to drink copious cups of tea and imbibe other nefarious substances, while we indulge in unpacking the last six months.

She keeps producing these little zip lock plastic bags, bag after bag. Lips. Yes, lips. Several hundred thousand lips, laboriously scalpelled from from paper ladies, the Revlon models. Everytime I visit, her collection has grown. On my last trip to Freo, Zeb was in production mode. "It's terrifying," she told me, "getting them glued down. I have to get it right the first time; no second chances with glue, or positioning. It's one move and that's it. A thousand times over."

This is an artist who spends zilch time on Photoshop and an inordinate amount taking a scalpel to women's glossies. Subversive, yes, but not in its obvious context.

From the lips of the Revlon women, velveteen splatters of wine advertisements and the carnivorous smiles of superstars, the PassionFlowers emerge. The PassionFlowers bare their teeth and reveal their luscious inner folds in one full blown, fleshy bloom.

Producing the one flower meant replicating the same set of lips. It takes a certain kind of obsession to scour the city for that particular 1999 edition of Marie Claire.

Zeb Shine's FairyTales are another thing altogether. Again, each image is a collage of thousands of glossy magazine snippets. The FairyTales give us the story of Woman in all her incarnations. Little Red enters the mossy depths of deep forest, aware all the while of the coal-eyed wolf watching her from a house. Danger here lurks inside the domestic sphere and nature is the refuge. Wendy steps away from her Lost/Bad Boys and moves on, into her own mature sense of self. Rapunzel's mane is her thorny prison but at her feet there is a locked door - and a key.

Step in and look around, via the link to Zeb's website, A Curious Nature. Please bear in mind the site is still under construction! I will leave a permanent link in Phosphorescence, under the Moon. I think we will hear and see a lot more of Zeb Shine and her Curious Nature.

PassionFlower © Zeb Shine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Room of One's Own

It still needs a couch, a bookshelf and some of the images that keep me happy ...

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pirate Heterotopia

"... the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens,

you will understand why the boat has been not only for our civilisation, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development ...
but has also been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination.

The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates."

Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces, 1967.

'Ratty and Mole' by Charles van Sandwyk

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Down With Being a Groanup

The New Romantic rang me awake this morning. "There's a yacht, he wants some crew. Sydney, two weeks and return airfare. Whaddaya reckon? He wants to know by lunchtime."
It was a bad start to the day. I fell back into my bed (after I'd given the New Romantic some choice expletives, at which point he said "Well, ask someone else and wreck their day too, will you? He needs someone by lunchtime.")
I'm a groanup now, dammit. I have responsibilities, y'know?

The last time this happened, I was seventeen and a half. The town jetty called me down regularly via that sea psyche telegraph, demanding I visit to check out who was catching squid or calling by from Mauritius. I was visiting friends with a cargo of shark and the Cockney Rebel was double docked with them.
"Come to Tasmania with us!"

Three weeks later, I sat on the docks at Hobart and contemplated my next move, with a sunburnt nose and empty wallet. I got a job barmaiding at a little town north (after a rather nasty hitch hiking experience with a Romanian wife-hunter willing to pay, who would not give up my backpack until I created a rumpus in a cafe where we stopped for a pie.) There's a whole lotta shit in this paragraph huh?

I got a job barmaiding at a little town north, collecting myself and some cash. "Do you know how to pour a beer?" "Of course!" Being seventeen and a half, my barmaiding experience was nil, but the beauty of youth saw me through. My first beer to pour, as the new star barmaid of this tiny town pub, was a Guinness. Nobody but the newly-supplanted local barmaid minded.

This morning's phone call woke me up. So naturally, I headed for the jetty.


Icebergs are heading north to New Zealand again. Within the next few days, locals in Sunny Dunny may be able to spot tabular chunks of Antarctica from Taiaroa Heads. This piece lurked by Macquarie Island on Monday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Art of Sea Doggery #2

The disaster puppy has so far escaped my clearing of the decks, when it comes to pets and extraneous baggage. Originally he came to me when his owner went up north "for a few week's work," one year ago now.

I would ring, usually on days when I'd been to the dentist for a filling and come home to find Digger had pulled down a verandah post, utterly destroyed my favourite chair or dug up and rolled in all those disgusting things that fisherwomen tend to bury in their gardens. "Come and get your fucking dog! Put him on a plane! He's not my dog."
This became my refrain. "He's not my dog."
People say to me, "Oh, he's so lovable and cuddly. He's a good boy"
"He's not my dog."
And they'd look at me with a sly smile and say, "Yeah but you love him, don't you."

I started taking him fishing. He took to sea doggery like a true professional. The myriad of disgusting things he could eat on a small fishing boat probably helped. He'd sprawl over the nets, his puppy guts bulging with rotten starfish and crabs. As he grew, and grew, (Digger at one stage was putting on ten kilos a month = one cup of sugar a day) I watched him develope his attitude towards the sea and its creatures, and I trained him to to behave well while we are working.

Now, he sits on the thwart as we play out net. He jumps down the moment the last buoy is thrown out and noses around for week-old trumpeters lying beneath the nets. (Did I tell you he has disgusting habits and a cast iron stomache?) He totally gets the whole fishing thing. "He thinks we're catching them all for him," said Old Salt. We were out on the channel at night pulling in nets under the fluorescent light. Digger leaned over the gunwale and watched everything that came up, waiting for fresh trumpeter.

He seems so certain that we fish for him alone, and is so robust in his motivation for food, that he has become a grand pelican deterrent. When I take him walking on the beach, pelicans are completely safe from his attentions. On board, picking up nets or crab pots, things are different. Pelicans get cheeky and begin to behave like sea gulls at a beachside barbeque, sometimes resulting in tugs of war over a mullet or black bream. This dog has them sorted. They are his fish thankyou very much, so fuck off! He's gone over the side four times now after pelicans, dived in head first and surfaced like an ungainly seal, spouting brine, watched by a smirking circle of those feathered kings and queens.

Since the last failed attempt at sending him north on a plane, Digger has stopped chewing up my furniture and dismantling my house. He seems to have finished teething, fingers crossed, and is evolving from a disaster puppy who grows exponentially every week, to a giant, solid, rock of a mate. But he's not my dog.

The other day, his owner flew into town and picked him up for a few days. I arrived home to a strange stillness. For a little while, I felt desperately sad with the absense of that joyful, wriggling lump of "Welcome home Sarah Toa! I'm so happy you are back! When we going fishing?"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Mr Yin's patchouli always precedes his elegant arrival. His wife buys it, he tells me. He doesn't know where from, but I can tell it is the real thing. There is such a thing as 'wrong patchouli'. Sometimes, whether the manufacturers have dodgeyed the mix or the plant herself is having a bad week, a bottle of patchouli can be a bit wrong. But when patchouli sings, it sings the essence of warm and sensual beings, of lightness in spirit and journeys into the deep, musty secrets of the earth.

I've followed women around in supermarkets with my nose, sniffing out wandering trails of heavenly scent, usually to find an old friend, dressed in Gypsy Rose market gear in the shampoo section, puzzling over the 'natural' ingredients that swim in sodium laureath sulphate and plastic. I met a Sanyassin man once in my dizzy youth, who was short and giggling and wore purple pants. It was not his pants, or the relentless laughing or the exotic beckoning of other worlds and spiritualities that suckered me. He was drenched in patchouli and I just wanted to have babies with him because he smelled so damn good.

"We had to watch a rat dissection, in year ten science," a staunch vegetarian told me, "And the girl sitting next to me was wearing patchouli. The smell makes me want to vomit to this day."
In my year ten, no one had heard of patchouli. Three dollar aerosol cans of Impulse were the scent scene. This nasty epitome of the utter lack of earthy inspiration that was the 1980's combined nicely with Madonna, George Michael, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran ... I had problems during high school. For some reason, I just didn't fit in.

A conversation in a cafe:
"What perfume are you wearing?"
And his eyes went on a quiet little journey into past love affairs. When he finally returned, he told me, "I used to know a girl who wore patchouli."
A few weeks later, I noticed his wife smelt ... rather good. "Yes, ---- bought it for me! He wanted me to wear patchouli."
No, I did not say a word, just put it in my little story bank and left it there.

Image (they are badges! very groovy!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Job Done

On friday I sent away a 23,000 word thesis - I willingly bared my throat to the examiners. Now I wait ... and wait ... it is two weeks until I find out whether they deem me worthy/unworthy of further work.

It's all about history and fiction, how historico-fiction can tell the unspoken tales of those silent voices of the past. So of course, two days after I hand in the thesis, I read in today's paper; "The historian remains irrevocably tied to concrete evidence, which is patchy at best and never allows access to the human psyche." Cassandra Pybus.

This Cassandra (whom I kinda admire) goes on to outline how of the most intriguing of stories in history are best served by historico-fiction, and why.
Well. No silly bugger at Troy paid any attention to Cassandra. Maybe this Cassandra could have prophetised she was writing an article that I could have quoted. Hey, I would have listened to the girl. Anyway. Methinks that is just the way of theses and the way Muphry works when we are feeling so bloody self important. I can safely wager that I will find a dozen 'perfect quotes' within the next fourteen nights.

I'm positive Leonard Cohen and the Pogues can see me through this.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

William Hook After the Green Island Murder

I will tell you. Gunpowder had won that little war in my own home too. Korako was dead, the canoes sawn in half, our houses burned. All a fight over kumara, my mother said, though she knew more. Eight days later a hundred Toa washed onto the beaches from the battle aboard the Sophia, their bodies caught in brothy corners of the harbour, snagged on trees, bloated in that strange manner of men who perished in the sea. Knees bent, legs and arms spread, their trunks plump with water and gases, bullet wounds and gashes marring the perfect black spirals on their warrior hides. We did not fish those tapu waters for a year. It was a thin year.
Since the day the bodies washed up, I have wanted the murderer Kelly’s fingers in a bag about my neck and thought that I would find him working the seas of New Holland. And here I was, helping the white man kill the black man.

On Our Return to Breaksea

On our return to Breaksea, Jimmy the Needle ripped down the osprey’s nest and the skeleton tree it straddled on the highest point of the island, for firewood.

There was a measuring cup and rum, as trade for Magennis and Bailey’s women.

There were the fresh carcasses of four breeding possums that Twertayan had gifted us alive a week ago.

There was spoilt Madeira from a lost cargo.

The sealers were ready for a spree.


Me: Hey Bloggy blog! I'm back! (pat pat) Have you been a good Blog? Have you missed me?
Me: O ... Kay. Not impressed. Fair enough. Sorry, but I been busy, Blog. I been hard at it, don't you understand? I brought you some nice little words, just to taste, whaddaya reckon?
Blog: I'll eat some words. Later. When you aren't looking.
Me: That bad?
Blog: I've been so lonely! Bitch Toa. Tie me up and leave me with with diarrhea etherkibble - BRAN and PRESERVATIVES and FOOD COLOURING so it looks like real words and all it does is bind me up. On the end of a chain. All alone. How could you do that? (Forgot. I'm not talking to you.)
Me: I'm so sorry Blog. My mind has been like those reams of copy paper - full of pulp but kinda blank. It's the result of trying to put words in the right order, week after week. There's so many things I wanted to feed you with and walk you though. The flathead are running in the channel. There's a spot, near the reef, just after dark, where we pull them up in the net, heavy it is, they are coming up a foot apart, in the wind tunnel that is the channel. (Anglers take note. You won't get a tip like this in the Newspaper) Old Salt is still acting all salty. We catch trumpeters in Oyster Harbour at dawn for crab bait. He says "It'll be all brass bands and grass skirts tonight", referring to the local Tongan community and their penchant for trumpeters. They've gone for free trumpeters baked in coconut milk in a big way.
Blog: I don't give a shit. I'm bound up. Give me some meat and take me for a walk.
Me: William Hook?
Blog: That bastard. Don't talk to me about William Hook.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Karaoke on Tumbleweed

It was like an eclipse - a transcendent experience - if you were an anthropologist.

"It was like an eclipse. I knew it was bad for me ... but I just couldn't look away." Kez.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Bicycle Sagas #4

Last week was time for an impromptu journey to Katanning on family business. For those not in the know, Katanning is a wheat and sheep town, way inland, where the only briny in existence rises up from the flat earth and eats whole trees and buildings. The day before, Old Salt had helped me lug two huge iceboxes full of that day's catch onto the back of the ute, so the fish had to come for a drive too.
"Whenever I go inland with fresh fish, I stop at the pub," he told me.
"Will they buy fish?"
"I dunno, never asked!"

So I was driving happily through shocking yellow fields of flowering rape. Someone told me recently that the rape flower is the closest yellow to the yellow in the spectrum of light. It's pretty hard not to feel emotionally moved, stunned even, by that vision of gold, punctuated with dots of emerald trees and a blue sky, when in reality, it is a hard-nosed agriculture with Monsanto at the helm. And, how do you market rape oil to those modern day gatherers, the mothers, wives and other females of the species? Better still, how do you market genetically modified rape oil? It's about as easy as marketing interpretive plaques to Aborigines. There must be a way ... ah yes, rename it Canola.

I stopped at one of those beautiful wheatbelt pubs, looming on the corner of a dying street, a grand old shady lady clad in peeling turquoise paint. Some yellow tape roped off the groaning veranda. "Do not cross. Party scene." I went into the bar. It was ten in the morning and the balloons were up, the pool table covered in a white sheet, Sky blaring. I forgot. It's Grand Final Day. The bar was packed.
"I was wondering," I asked the quintessential barmaid, "if the cook wants to buy some fresh King George Whiting fillets?" The bar went silent (except for Sky) and they all turned to stare at me. I felt like backing up, with my hands in front of my face - or perhaps going on the offensive - "I'm licenced to fish and insured to sell!" - whilst waving around a Pike.

She explained to me, gently, that the frozen fish van comes once a week to deliver them Basa, so thanks but no thanks. I drove on to the next town, to another pub much the same. A man was on the footpath at the front, doing something strange with one of those blower thingies. He was blowing dust out of its bag and into an icecream container, except that it was going everywhere and coating the walls. I didn't get it but I got out and asked him about the fish anyway.
He looked at me, as if I was the strange one, like I was from the moon, or maybe even a curly-headed hippy from the coast, trying to flog some fish. Something like that. It didn't go well. "Nah, I fink we're right, love," he told me, folding the words around his beard and two or three teeth.

After that, I gave up selling fish and concentrated on the more gratifying business of family affairs. On my way out of Katanning a few hours later though, I stopped in at a great little antique shop on the highway. The proprietor stood out in the sun, polishing something brass, with a little radio beside her broadcasting the footy. Whilst chatting, my attention was drawn to the bicycle beside her. Ooooh, a bicycle. And what a darling. A proper Australia Post posties bicycle straight from the 1970's. Back brakes! Red and white!

It turned out she just loved King George Whiting. She could do me a deal for a kilo of fillets.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Phosphorescence has attached itself to my blog with some links to places scintillating and strange. I'll introduce them to you, so you can drop in and offer these new residents a cup of sugar. (They live under the moon.)
Dunedin Street Art takes me back to days when I'd walk to the uni gym in Dunedin, along the shopping trolley-strewn Leith River, breathing steam into the icy air, seeing pathos and murder unfold daily in the local duck community and checking out the great street art on the walls of factories.
Silvia Huege de Serville's blog is a beautiful and complicated journey of art and identity.
And Big Storm Picture? Well, if you have an ounce of testosterone and a healthy appreciation for a ripping great storm (me - both, as the pre-storm tingling in my extremities and hairs on my chin attest), you'll love these guys.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What He Said

As soon as you start writing, even if it is under your real name, you start to function as somebody slightly different, as a "writer". You establish from yourself to yourself continuities and a level of coherence which is not quite the same as your real life...

All this ends up constituting a kind of neo-identity which is not identical to your identity as a citizen or your social identity, Besides you know this very well, since you want to protect your private life.'

Michel Foucault. (2004). 'Je suis un artificier'. In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens. Paris: Odile Jacob, p. 106. (Interview conducted in 1975. This passage trans. Clare O'Farrell).

The Art of Sea Doggery

My Pterodactyl

Well ... the suspension (of disbelief) has been building for a month now. It's been disproved an emu skull and is most probably a fish.
But ohhh! How I want this to be a pterodactyl!
This skull was pulled out of the nets by Old Salt and I from the murky waters under the Kalgan River bridge, covered in barnacles, with tiny crabs living in its brain socket. Any ideas? Anyone?

Note how asymmetrical the top of the skull is.

A side view, on A4 paper.
And yes, I am an iPhoto Luddite, sorry 'bout that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's All Going On Today

Source: Image from Japan Meteorological Agency satellite MTSAT-1R via Bureau of Meteorology.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Salmon Stories AGAIN

It has been a year folks.
I'm putting up my first ever post (ain't she cute?) not because I'm a lazy bastard even though I am, but because I love these tales and it's nice to return to tales you love.

* Same Tribe As Me

He was burly and sad and smelt vaguely of mutton. He handed me an apple and talked about fish.

“They’re not real salmon y’know. That was all Captain Cook’s fault. He looked at one and said ‘Well...they’re kinda like a big salmon really’ and the name stuck. They’re actually an overgrown herring.”

The fisherman looked to me for a response. Folds of skin nearly obscured his keen eyes. Scabby cancers colonised his nose. “You eat an apple just like I do.”

“Core and all?”

“Yeah...don’t those seeds taste good?”

* Dogs of the Past

Red flowering gums flared crimson when salmon flew in silver swathes along the coast.
With fires on the beach
and a sticktapping clever-man, Mineng sang the dolphins in.
An old linguist who was really a Count wrote all about this.
Twertwaning; ‘old past dogs’
were dolphins who worked with the people.
Dogs of the past drove the salmon right up to the lacy waters’ edge to be speared and gathered.
Dogs of the past gobbled a warm meal of regurgitated pilchards for their efforts
like kelpies falling on chop bones.

* Bittersweet

In reality, she was a decrepit failed restaurant venture, tethered in disgrace at the end of the Deepie but that night was the pinnacle of the old whalechaser’s career as an eatery.
We weren’t supposed to be there, something about asbestos and public liability but my father was the caretaker, so...there we were.
Candles glowed in the jarrah-lined innards and a strange, longhaired man played guitar on the iron stairs. Cast iron cauldrons of Dahl and rice sat steaming on tables beside huge mounds of baked salmon covered in lemon and strips of bacon.
Dad wanted to introduce his daughters to the woman he would later marry. Together, they’d put on a feast. My guests, my silent beau and the ancient, drunken Scot, were the escape plan if things got too strange.
We slid into red velvet booth seats, shared green ginger wine, peeled away silvery salmon skin, and broke flakes of juicy flesh from the bone with our fingers. The taste of bittersweet iron made my teeth hurt.

When Hector finally succumbed to his Drambuie on the booth seat, (crumpled kilt, legs askew, it was not pretty) Ben and I climbed back out into the clean night air and stood together on deck. Under the full moon, yachts flew like white moths across the harbour on their annual autumn migration.

* Her Dad

“Dad always said ‘Never shoot here when it’s onshore or too rough. Don’t waste your life or your gear. Most of all - don’t be greedy.’ The bastards got it all wrong – look.”

She gave me the binoculars with shaking hands. “Net broke. Too bloody greedy.”
Black marks on the white sand below looked like itinerant seaweed but then I focussed in on dead fish – tons and tons of dead fish.

“Look along to the main break, where the inlet comes out.”
Surfers sat upright in the water, the tips of their boards just visible. But there were other tips too, gathering around them like black leaves. Fins, the fins of dead salmon. The surfers sat on their boards in a sea of dead salmon, patiently awaiting the next set.
“This used to be our patch. This would never have happened if Dad was still alive,” she said.

* This place is not civilised yet

It’s a beautiful thing, to see a green wave rise up and reveal salmon in its window. There’s a boardwalk, toilets, interpretive plaques – but this place is not civilised yet.
On a still night, I can hear the swell from my bed, roaring, a pestle grinding rocks into sand.
The names of the prisoners who built the original stairway are visible on a low tide, carved into limestone tablets. Water boils in sucky holes and the rips stretch a turquoise scar right out to sea.
“Where’s the pirate treasure, the skeletons of drowned sailors?” My friend skips across a tiny beach. We share a mutual goosey moment when we find the white cross poking out of the wild rosemary. Nearby crouches the decomposing four-wheel drive that landed there in 1994. Both of us stand in the sand and stare up the dizzying cliff.
Trembling, hundreds of stairs later, I can still see the shoal of salmon. The white lace of a broken wave regularly obscures the black drifting disc.
A dark shape moves in from the deep. The salmon circle into a solid grain, trying to become impenetrable. They fail.

The Noah breaks up the outer rim and wriggles lazily into the centre like the triumphant spermatozoa in that vital moment. The salmon fold away from the darkness, creating a lime green channel in its wake.